UK basketball notebook: Bracketology college basketball's sweet science of all and nothing

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 16, 2013 

Kentucky Wildcats guard Archie Goodwin (10) Kyle Wiltjer, and Jarrod Polson scrambled for a loose ball with Vanderbilt Commodores forward Shelby Moats (34) as vanderbilt beat Kentucky 64-48 on Friday March 15, 2013 in Nashville,TN. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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Bracketology, which proves you can create the perception of heft by attaching "ology" to the end of any word, reaches its climax Sunday. Selection Sunday is a high holy day for those who pay attention to the ceaseless speculation about the NCAA Tournament bracket.

We learn the seedings, pairings and travel plans for 68 teams. Poof! All the so-called brainpower devoted to the pseudo science of bracketology becomes irrelevant in a CBS minute.

This truth hit home for me several years ago at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. It was before cell phones. I remember that because while sitting in the media work room I saw a colleague gathering telephones as he feverishly worked. He took calls. He made calls. He scribbled on a pad while engaged in several animated conversations.

The growing dread of being oblivious to a major breaking story faded when I realize he was working on his mock NCAA Tournament bracket, which would appear in his newspaper Selection Sunday morning.

Oh, OK. Nothing important.

Yet, bracketology continues to grow. Last four in. First four out. Bubble, bubble, much toil and trouble.

Xavier Director of Athletics Mike Bobinski, chair of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, acknowledged the booming popularity of bracketology.

"It's become its own industry, which is interesting to us here in the committee room," he said last week. "We know all those folks, honestly enjoy what they do. I think it's great for the game of college basketball. It builds and sustains interest throughout the course of the year."

As for actual impact on selection process, not so much.

"They react literally on a day-to-day or sometimes half-to-half or game-by-game basis to what they see," Bobinski said. "That's who they are, what they get paid to do. It helps to drive and build interest, makes for great conversation the next day around the water cooler.

"But we have a different circumstance here. We try to allow all the dust to settle."

When asked about bracketology last week, Southeastern Conference coaches smiled like indulgent parents or rolled their eyes.

Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy, whose team this season has been a thesis topic for bracketologists, embraced the Joe Lunardis of the world.

"I think it's genius marketing," Kennedy said after the Rebels improved their NCAA Tournament profile by beating Missouri on Friday night. " ... If it brings attention to college basketball, I'm all for it."

LSU Coach Johnny Jones agreed.

"I think it's great for TV," he said. "I think it's great for entertainment. For coaches, it's about winning and competing and continuing to prepare your team. And I think that's all you can do."

Georgia Coach Mark Fox noted how quickly and wildly the observations and conclusions can change. Kentucky's hopes for a bid seemingly were dashed with a loss last week at Georgia. Then the Cats moved into position to almost touch a bid by beating Florida. Then UK's chances went on life support with a crushing loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament.

"Some of the experts now just cloud the process," Fox said. "They all have opinions, Every day this four and that four. That's ridiculous. I don't even follow it. All it does is confuse everybody."

When asked at mid-week what he took from bracketology, Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin said, "Nothing.

"I don't worry about it. I don't have the time or the energy."

Perhaps. But a reporter noted how Martin had cited the Vols' Ratings Percentage Index and Strength of Schedule numbers.

A guilty smile crossed Martin's face. "You have to know what's going on," he said.

When it comes to the NCAA Tournament bracket, many take comfort in the appearance of knowing what's going on.

One man, one vote

The Associated Press will announce its All-SEC awards on Monday.

Here the ballot I submitted Saturday:

First team: Jarnell Stokes, F, Tennessee; Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, Georgia; Elston Turner, G, Texas A&M; Trevor Releford, G, Alabama.

Second team: Johnny O'Bryant, F, LSU; Patric Young, C, Florida; Jordan McRae, G, Tennessee; Marshall Henderson, G, Mississippi; Scottie Wilbekin, G, Florida.

Player of the Year: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia.

Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan, Florida.

Newcomer of the Year: Marshall Henderson, Mississippi.

Comment: Much to debate at point guard. Besides Releford and Wilbekin, there's former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey of LSU to consider, plus Texas A&M's Fabyon Harris and, of course, Phil Pressey of Missouri.

Pressey won the vote for pre-season Player of the Year. But he simply took too many ill-conceived shots and committed too many turnovers in the clutch. Plus, he got exploited as a defender.

Apologies to Erik Murphy of Florida.

KCP as Player of the Year was fairly easy to decide. As for Coach of the Year, the many possibilities included Johnny Jones (LSU), Mark Fox (Georgia), Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt), Anthony Grant (Alabama), Cuonzo Martin (Tennessee), Andy Kennedy (Mississippi) and John Calipari (Kentucky). A nod to Calipari for maintaining his sanity.

Whatever you think of Henderson (and there's a lot to think), he had the greatest impact of any player on the appeal of SEC basketball this season.

Not UK's night

Three reasons to know it wasn't UK's night against Vanderbilt on Friday in the SEC Tournament:

■ Sophomore Shelby Moats, who had made only two three-pointers since Jan. 12 (and only four in his college career), erased UK's last lead with a three-pointer at the 13:53 mark of the first half.

■ Moats, who averaged 3.0 points, made a shot in the final seconds to give Vandy a 37-23 halftime lead.

Rod Odom's three-pointer from the right corner bounced high off the right side of the rim, came down on the back of the rim and rolled off the glass before nestling into the basket.

"That's why you slap them on the butt and say, 'Next game,'" UK freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said. "Obviously, you're not supposed to win the game."

Congratulations

Nicholasville native Chris Holtmann was named a finalist Wednesday for the 2013 Hugh Durham Award as the nation's top mid-major coach.

Holtmann, 41, led Gardner-Webb to its first 20-win season as a full member of NCAA Division I. His team had a 20-11 regular season record and finished second in the Big South Conference's South Division. Gardner-Webb had been picked fifth in the six-team division in the pre-season by the league's head coaches and media.

Holtmann was named Big South Conference Coach of the Year. He received 10 of the 12 first-place votes from the league's head coaches. The Runnin' Bulldogs advanced to the semifinal round in the 2013 Big South Conference Tournament.

The Hugh Durham Award is named for former coach Hugh Durham, who retired following the 2004-2005 season. Durham is one of just 12 coaches to have led two different programs — Florida State in 1972 and Georgia in 1983 — to the Final Four. He's believed to be the only coach to lead two programs to their only Final Four appearances.

'Misplaced energy'

Syndicated columnist Norman Chad lamented the flood of so-called analysis, which includes but is not limited to the incessant bracketology.

"All this micro- and macro-analysis puts us in a really bad place," he wrote last week. "It's misplaced energy.

"Yeah, I know, I'm a relic of a lost civilization yearning for a rotary phone. But trust me, folks, we're taking a step in the wrong direction. And assuming the world is flat — as I do — I believe we are now just several steps from falling off the face of the Earth.

"You see, besides the fact that we should redirect our priorities to stuff that really matters — like climate change or failing schools or gun violence — all I want to do is watch the games in relative peace. I don't need breakdowns of batting average on balls in play or true shooting percentage. I'm just rooting against the Knicks."

Attendance figures

John Calipari likes to talk about how playing Kentucky is like being in the Super Bowl for opponents. It has an inspiring effect.

Certainly, Kentucky as the visiting team makes for a festive atmosphere. Big crowds. T-shirt giveaways. Retired jerseys. Etc. Etc.

Attendance figures released by the SEC support the coach's contention. Kentucky's road games in the league drew the largest crowds: 13,441, on average. And that's without the benefit of playing a road game in Rupp Arena.

While not every road game was a sellout (the announced 10,558 at Texas A&M was well below the listed capacity of 12,989), Kentucky's SEC road games averaged the highest attendance despite visits to smaller venues at Auburn and Mississippi. UK also had to battle apathy at Georgia and Texas A&M.

Florida was the SEC's second-best road draw (13,021). Rounding out the top five were Missouri (12,953), Vanderbilt (12,349) and Mississippi State (12,145). Of course, all four made visits to Rupp Arena.

The rest of the SEC, in order, was 6. Tennessee (10,864), 7. Georgia (11,448), 8. LSU (12,953), 9. Auburn (11,108), 10. Texas A&M (10,864), 11. South Carolina (10,795), 12. Mississippi (10,290), 13. Alabama (10,093) and 14. Arkansas (9,870).

In terms of home attendance in league play, Kentucky (23,874) far outdistanced Tennessee (18,089). Rounding out the top five were Missouri (13,805), Alabama (12,828) and Florida (11,853).

Perhaps as a further indication of a down year in SEC basketball, home attendance decreased at nine of the 14 schools. Attendance increased at Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Must-see TV?

If you need a reminder of UK's status as an elite program, Turner Sports provides it Sunday night. The network will air the documentary titled Bluegrass Kingdom: The Gospel of Kentucky Basketball, on truTV beginning at 8 p.m.

The documentary features interviews with such notables as Pat Riley, Jamal Mashburn, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, First Fan Ashley Judd, Joe B. Hall and John Calipari.

Grammy Award-winning artist Drake narrates the documentary, which puts a human face on a basketball dynasty.

Happy birthday

To former Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl. He turns 53 on Monday. ... To Cory Sears. He turns 33 on Tuesday. ... To former U of L commentator Jock Sutherland. He turned 85 on Thursday. ... To Sam Bowie. He turns 53 on Sunday. ... To Jim Master. He turned 51 on Saturday. ... To Jimmy Dan Conner. He turns 60 on Wednesday. ... To Jerry Hale. He turns 60 on Wednesday. ... To Patrick Sparks. He turns 30 Sunday. ... To Patrick Patterson. He turned 24 on Thursday. ... To Pat Riley. He turns 68 on Wednesday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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